There's a push to fix something dangerous bordering Nashville's streets. While it could cost taxpayers nearly $2 million, that could actually be cheaper than the alternative: a big lawsuit.
Nashville is determined to become a bicycle-friendly city, and while those cyclists are busy looking out for cars and pedestrians, it could be easy for them to miss what is approaching their tires.
For decades, sewer grates in Nashville we placed so that the open slits ran parallel to the direction of the road. It's a great way to keep water from collecting on the roads, but it spells trouble for bicycles.
"The front tire could actually fall in, and that sudden stop - especially with the front end of the bike being down - could cause them to go over the handlebars," said John Kennedy, deputy director of Metro Water.
As a solution, the Metro Water Department has begun replacing about 33,000 sewer grates, making the openings perpendicular to the road, and bike-friendly, at a cost of $1.7 million.
"The metal top with the slats is about $144, then you've got the expense of installing it," Kennedy said.
The city is working diligently to replace those grates one-by-one, but is doing so without a map that shows which ones are positioned which way. It's a tedious process but an important one, especially after two serious accidents.
In 2006, a cyclist fell over the handlebars when his bike's front tire fell into a sewer grate, requiring hours of facial reconstruction surgery and sparking a $130,000 lawsuit against the city.
The same month the city was paying for that lawsuit, another cyclist had a similar accident, later filing a $200,000 lawsuit the Metro Council is set to pay Tuesday.
"We'd rather buy grates than replace people's teeth," Kennedy said.
And that's the real reason behind these changes. It's not about lawsuits. Rather, it's about bicycle safety and changing the roads.
"It's a major deal. It provides greater safety and security for cyclists in Nashville," said Keith Rawls, with Nashville B-cycle.
The new sewer grates are not as efficient at draining water from the roads, but they are much safer for bicycles.
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